For years, boaters visiting Tangier Island first met Milton Parks, the genial owner of Parks Marina on the western end of the island’s thoroughfare, the only facility in the community serving transient vessels.
Though the average vertical tide change in Tangier’s thoroughfare is only 1.5’, the current is powerful, and he knew every nuance of docking in it. With care, visitors would nose their vessels’ bows into the slips as Parks stood ready to offer advice on gauging the correct angle of approach, take a line, and welcome them to the island. Parks, 90, died May 18, 2022. Except for several years in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves, he lived on Tangier his whole life.
After graduating as valedictorian at Tangier Combined School (Class of 1948), an enduring source of pride for him, he went to work in “the water business” like most of his male classmates, crabbing, oystering, and fishing for many years. He was, by common consent among his peers, one of the island’s finest crabbers.
He and his wife Betty, who died in 2012, raised five daughters and sons who have built successful families of their own, both on and off the island. Their youngest daughter, Inez, is a degreed Physician’s Assistant who helped found Tangier’s Health Clinic and manages it today.
Years ago, Milton Parks saw opportunity in his family’s shoreline, and with remarkable energy, he built the marina in the evenings, after long days on the water. It is a simple facility, offering 25 slips, electric and water hookups, restrooms, and showers, with other facilities a short walk away in the town.
The marina atmosphere is laidback, exemplified by the owner’s characteristic instructions, “If I’m not there to meet you, pull into any slip you like.” Mr. Parks was always glad to see visitors, talk with them, and tell them stories of island life with his gentle, dry sense of humor. He was a great ambassador for the community.
In 2018, Virginia Beach-born photographer Mike Swartz produced this 12-minute video titled “Milton Parks- An American National Treasure” interviewing Mr. Parks about his beloved Tangier Island and the changes it has seen in the 21st century. In it, he recalls waking up at 2 a.m. six days a week to work the water. He says he chose the profession for the independence. He says he built the marina in the 1960s during the night after crabbing during the day.
The hope is that a Parks family member will continue operation of the marina.
-John Page Williams